In modern-day western society, we are inundated with stressors. We’re so stressed that we don’t even recognise it as stress anymore, we just see it as our ‘normal’.
This chronic stress wreaks havoc on our immune system, nervous system, adrenal glands, and digestive function. Chronic stress is the silent killer. It’s so insidious that we may not even realise it is a major contributor to other health conditions and diseases.
Knowing that stress is hindering our healing ability is well and good, but what to do about it? When it’s so intertwined with day-to-day reality, how do we begin to untangle it and help our bodies heal?
It’s unrealistic to assume that we can simply avoid all stressors, but there are many things which help give your nervous system and adrenals the support needed to increase resilience and overall wellbeing.
Most of us know how important sleep is, but it still tends to be neglected. Eight hours of good quality sleep is imperative for a strong and resilient nervous system and adrenals.
Some ways you can improve your sleep quality are:
- Adopt a good sleep hygiene practice by avoiding stimulation or blue light (computer, phone or television) for two hours before you go to sleep.
- Try to go to sleep and wake up every night around the same time.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages including black or green tea after noon.
- Avoid drinking large quantities of water one hour before you go to bed, this will prevent you from needing to urinate in the night.
- Consider doing a relaxing ten-minute meditation, or read a relaxing book by low light just before you go to bed.
- Turn wifi off while you sleep.
- Try to be more physically active in the day, to ensure releasing stress and tiring your body out.
Sunlight and nature
We all know how important nature is and how much better we feel when we are in nature. Even just twenty minutes outside in nature reduces cortisol by 50% for up to 21 hours. Try to get outside on your lunch break or go for a morning or afternoon walk.
On weekends, try to get out in nature by going for a bushwalk or beach walk. Go barefoot where and when you can. Even just taking a few minutes to stand barefoot on the wet grass in the morning can have surprising benefits.
Sunlight is also incredibly important for our mood and nervous system as it helps us to synthesise Vitamin D, an important vitamin for our mood and immune system.
Protein and essential fatty acids
Consuming high-quality proteins such as wild-caught oily fish, organic meat, eggs tempeh, legumes, and quinoa can help to stabilise your blood sugar as well as provide the essential amino acids needed to make our neurotransmitters.
Spirulina, flaxseed oil, hemp seeds/oil are all great sources of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Essential Fatty acids are imperative for brain and nerve tissue development.
They also ensure the adrenals and thyroid are working properly and making hormones.
Meditation and yoga
Meditation and yoga are incredible ways to rewire the brain and retrain the stress response. Both practices have been shown to dramatically reduce stress and improve our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
Magnesium is an incredibly vital mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is a key component in modulating the stress response through its involvement in the hypopituitary adrenal axis (HPAA) as well as reducing muscular tensions.
Unfortunately, our food is often devoid of this important mineral so supplementation is usually necessary. The best way to get magnesium is through the skin.
Soaking your feet or body in a magnesium bath is an excellent way to increase your magnesium levels while also simultaneously relaxing your body. Try adding essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, vetiver, cedarwood, or ylang ylang to enhance the relaxation response.
Vitamin B & C
The B Vitamins, specifically B5, B6 and B3, as well as Vitamin C are critical nutrients for our adrenal glands and are required for steroid hormone syntheses such as adrenalin, noradrenaline and cortisol. Chronic stress depletes the body of these important vitamins.
Eating a colourful diet full of seasonal fruit and vegetables can help to restore these vitamins but supplementation in the short-term may be necessary.
Herbs play a vital role in improving our stress response and resilience. Speak to a herbalist or naturopath about which herbs are right for you. Some of the more notable herbs for adrenal and nervous system support include withania, chamomile, tulsi, rhodiola, oats, passionflower, lavender, lemon balm, licorice, Siberian ginseng, and skullcap.
As important as it is to do all the things that nourish the nervous system, it’s equally important to avoid things that wreak havoc on your adrenals. These include:
Sugar, refined and processed foods. Besides being devoid of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, junk food can cause blood sugar spikes which increases the workload of the adrenals, putting unnecessary stress on the body and leading to impaired function over time.
Caffeine stimulates your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which in turn increases your cortisol levels. This can be useful when you have plenty of cortisol to spare but what most of us do when we consume caffeine is essentially deficit spending. You are withdrawing money (cortisol) from an empty bank account (adrenals).
The long-term effects of this can include adrenal exhaustion, chronic fatigue or burn out. If you’re someone who ‘needs’ a coffee, it might be useful to reassess your relationship and dependency with caffeine.
Alcohol depletes the body of minerals and vitamins needed by the nervous system and adrenals, particularly the B vitamins and zinc.
If you’re tired, burnt out, anxious or depleted, alcohol is not going to be doing you any favours and it is best to remove it from your life.
If you are using alcohol as a coping mechanism for work or life stress, try substituting it with a magnesium bath, a yoga class, a meditation, or a large pot of chamomile tea!
If you’re struggling with stress, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances or depression it’s best to seek professional help. Consult your naturopath or health care practitioner to receive advice based on your individual needs and situation.
If you’re living in or travelling to the Northern Rivers of NSW, Byron Bay Detox Retreats can help.